Next week the NLDTF will host a national consultation in Midrand with civil society to examine the functioning of the entity in relation to it's mandate. It will hopefully provide an opportunity for real engagement as opposed to a platform for the NLDTF to tell us what it is doing...
Funding for development and social services in any country is often a political and civic hot potato, with competing agendas and lobbies vying for space and funds for every special and normal need to be addressed. The global economic recession, which got underway during 2008, does not help the situation with severe austerity measures in place in most northern economies and job losses and negative aid allocations in many southern economies. In South Africa, with our huge and fertile population, our history of political oppression and the current state of growing inequality, it becomes something slightly more challenging to think about how we move to the ideal of social cohesion from our current status as a highly unequal society. Social services and development delivery needs to be more than a mere budget allocation. It needs to be placed at the centre of our economic policy development and should inform the budget choices beyond mere social grants.
Currently, a social service and development budget allocation becomes an ideological debate (mostly wrongly) about the evils of neo-liberal economics and capitalism and civil society as empty ranting devoid of economic understanding. While most of this is often both true and false, what is often missed is the rather large elephant in the room, which just happens to be government and the role the state plays in entrenching inequality and throwing huge sums of money at situations it sees as problems that need delivery to be kept under control.
It is not a shortage of money that is the problem, nor is it a shortage of willing and mostly able people to deliver the services needed and lastly, it is not an unwillingness of people to work to build their own lives and this country. What is often lacking is the ability of the holders of power to adequately engage with the people and the situations we face and work together to find solutions.
This hallmark of the liberation-movement-as-government is highlighted by the way in which the Minister of the DTI went about creating and releasing regulations for the functioning of the National Lottery in February 2010. Civil society organisations made a call in August 2006 for a process to develop and implement regulations to help improve the functioning of the National Lottery. Last year (2010), this idea was taken by government and implemented, with no consultation nor any engagement with the originators of the idea and now we have largely ineffective regulations governing the functioning of the National Lottery and possibly doing much more harm than good.
This is the real reason we have a challenge making progress on pressing social, cultural and economic rights in SA and the functioning of the National Lottery and the NDA claiming a position of authority on development solutions. The state does not hold the sole power to decide what needs to be done nor (and some would argue more importantly) how, it must be done. Solutions to challenges developed and implemented from high up are not the answers to making the National Lottery or NDA work better nor are they the panacea to job creation, housing, water delivery or the rampant xenophobia in South Africa.
The challenges we all know, live and face on a daily basis can be addressed only if we do two things, and do them soon:
Firstly, we need a state that fully listens, understands and acts on the needs of the populace, but also and crucially to their ideas about how these needs can be met. This is relatively easy in South Africa where there are still a reasonable number of independent civil society organisations, connected to and working with people affected by and living in poverty on a daily basis. Each independent NGO or CBO is a source of ideas that can become real solutions to the ongoing challenges of poverty, illiteracy, inequality and the general malcontent people feel (and more recently expressed as violent protest). The state needs to understand that there are differing ideas about solutions and SA is a highly localised nation. We need localised interventions that support the diversity of people and ideas in each province and municipality in partnership with NGOs and CBOs. Large-scale one-size-fits-all jobs programmes have their place too but serve little good if they are not connected to what people have to go back home to.
Secondly, we need a state that must recognise that these self-same NGOs and CBOs, which deliver critical community based social services, are ideally positioned to be leveraged as the key service providers of such services at a much lower cost than the bloated civil service.